Lego has announced that it’s pulling its infamous Jabba the Hutt-themed play set and insists that the toy has simply come to the end of its run. But Birol Kilic, head of the Turkish Cultural Association of Austria, is claiming glorious victory after a long campaign that accused Lego of fanning the flames of racism. Kilic says that Hutt’s palace looks eerily similar to the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul and that because Jabba is a villain this will reinforce negative attitudes towards Muslims. Quote: “This does not belong in children’s bedrooms. And the minaret-like tower features machine guns. Children will become insensitive to violence and other cultures.”
Of course, it doesn’t look like the Hagia Sophia so much as it looks like what it’s supposed to look like – Jabba the Hutt’s palace in Star Wars. But that doesn’t mean it’s not insidiously racist, just that the bigotry doesn’t start with Lego but with George Lucas and his barely concealed mission to turn five-year olds against Islam.* Perhaps the Turkish Cultural Association would like to see every print of Return of the Jedi burned (I volunteer) or else CGI used to replace Hutt’s palace with something less racially sensitive – like a Number 24 bus?
Let us please not stop there. I find it strange – perhaps a display of subconscious chauvinism – that no one has yet attacked Lego’s Pirates of the Caribbean sets for its representation of native islanders as spear throwing cannibals. Every time I see my three-year old relative playing with one of its Heart of Darkness-style sets, my heart sinks. Every time he swallows one of the heads of one of the cannibal figurines, I am outraged – it is they who should be eating you, little boy, not the other way around. Perhaps I should call the police? My cousin is clearly raising a future leader of the BNP.
And while we’re at it, can we not clamp down on other areas of the nursery that have become infested with bigotry? Paddington Bear pushes some very negative stereotypes of Peruvians as marmalade chomping spongers who don’t wear trousers. Harry Potter reduces the ancient religion of Wicca to a conjurer’s stereotype and the Teletubbies have often been accused of being nothing less than a bunch of John Inmans. Why does Barbie like clothes rather than engineering or running for high office? And in Dora the Explorer one can detect the ugly whiff of neo-imperialism. What right has this little madam to “discover” places that are already inhabited, projecting on to them her own privileged understand of the world? Yes, she is a Latina, but her racial identity has been appropriated by corporate power to push a “safe” image of Hispanic culture. As one professor of women’s studies at the University of Arizona points out, Dora the Explorer
…creates a monolithic Latino/a identity that appeals to the dominant culture (particularly white parents). Because Dora is not identified as specifically Mexican or Salvadoran, Puerto Rican or Peruvian, she exists outside of historical and political realities—including the debates about undocumented immigrants that have demonized Latino people in the United States. Not only is Dora unthreatening to Anglo audiences because she is a child, her cinnamon complexion and straight hair reflect European ancestry rather than indigenous and African roots. Throughout her adventures, Dora enjoys an unusual geographic mobility, crossing landscapes but never distinct borders, always returning home rather than staying somewhere new. Her animated domain is devoid of references to social class, labor, or a currency-based economy.
Sing it sister: Dora the Explorer is the 21st century’s Uncle Tom!
Of course, I could be overreacting to the alleged racism that’s all around us. It’s possible that toys are just toys and that their makers carelessly pluck images and styles from different cultures without intending any offence – and possibly causing no offence, either. It’s also possible that we’re rumbling towards a future in which culture is policed by a strange alliance of fanatics and well-intentioned liberals, killing free speech and imagination along the way.
But while all that is possible, my generational instinct is to see malice anywhere and everywhere. The world shall not be safe for democracy until Lego is banned. Because that's how liberalism is supposed to work.